Pension, pension–who gets the pension?

San Francisco voters will find two pension reform measures on their November 8 ballot this year. One was submitted by the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors, the other by an initiative process sponsored by Jeff Adachi, the City’s Public Defender. Today the Ballot Simplification Committee went through each of the measures to ensure that they will be clear and comprehensible to voters. It was a lengthy process.

The Mayor’s proposal, which will be Ballot Measure C: City Retirement and Health Care Benefits, includes changes to both the pension system and the health benefits for city employees. The Adachi proposal, which will be Ballot Measure D Retirement Benefits for City Employees, deals only with the pension system and does not address health benefits. Both measures will change the contributions made by city employees and elected officials for their retirement benefits and also raise the age at which individuals can retire and receive benefits. The specific details of each measure are far too intricate to be spelled out in this blog. One of the most difficult tasks of preparing for this election will be explaining to potential voters the differences between the measures. You can expect to read in the newspapers and hear from various media sources many different predictions about how much money the City will save if one or another of the measures is adopted. The League will have its work cut out for it in preparing materials for voter education on these competing measures.

While we are busy grappling with these measures an overriding question about City government goes unmentioned. One of the glaring weaknesses of San Francisco government is the number of details spelled out in the City Charter. Instead of being a document stating the general principles guiding the government and the City officials who lead it, our Charter includes the minute details of employee duties, rewards, pensions and other benefits. It is ridiculous that minor changes in retirement benefits require the re-writing of a portion of the City Charter. A complete revision of the Charter is long overdue and the League of Women Voters has been recommending that for many years. It’s easy to give up in despair and conclude that nothing will ever happen, but the League is well-known for hammering away at issues until their time finally comes. Getting the Redistricting Commission set-up took a long time, but this year we are finally seeing redistricting taken out of the hands of politicians and being decided by a nonpartisan group of citizens. Perhaps the City Charter should be our next focus. It may take years, but think what an achievement it would be to have a sensible basis for our City government at last.

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